...And You Will Know Us By the Trail of Dead in Oxford, 2000 < Back

30.03.21 | ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead seem an unlikely band to be popular in the heartlands of Britain's middle class, educated cities. Maybe there's sufficient danger to this latest wave of chaotic, soul-and-fire bands that appeals to British youth in its state of atrophied, branded monochrome. Personally I think bands should always be like this, it's the world that's taking its time to catch up. In the eighties and nineties 'fucking shit up' was not such a sought-after venture it seems... Sonic Youth attempted it as early as 1987 with the sprawling clamour of their 'Sister' LP but that was art, baby. This is life and death.

Why then, a group of four Pete Townsends who look like a Beatles tribute band? But think about it - were Lennon starting out now he'd be doing this, not following the past's well-thumbed schema. Those marks are so engraved they've actually worn a hole in history. "Criticism's something you've just gotta roll with," remarks Conrad as he surveys the Oxford crowd, "as Noel Gallagher once pointed out."

From this Texas breath exhaled - no sign of relief From Austin's yellow brick road, this is forever... (At The Drive-In, 'Napolean Solo')

Whatever the chemistry, whatever the location, ...And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead are the right band for what is now turn of the century Britain again. Students, artists and professionals alike descend on Oxford to stand in awe and momentarily hold Jason aloft above the city. He was the one king... this was his one sin. Jason is the raw, authorial centre of this band, his outstretched arms conducting a open-ended collision of music and violence, sheer desperate passion and attitude. Whilst he batters the tom drums in a ferocious, funereal battle-cry - like Joy Division's 'In A Lonely Place' at double speed - it's when he steps from behind the kit after the ravaged 'Mark David Chapman' that he really comes into his own. Black-clad and sweating, he is Al Green in reverse - minutely orchestrating the progress of the music around him so it's more destructive, more keenly delivering that sense of struggle with the world. His words rain on the audience at all times, his "kill, kill, kill..!" mantra becoming, in this context of noise and movement, a simple expression of truth. Jason sees the night - past all these upturned faces, past these dingy Oxford walls - as it truly is: dark and threatening.

Conrad is Jason's mischievous foil, his sense of desperation just as keen but his methods more athletic. It's Conrad's pose you recognise from the photos: taking shelter in the ruins of a drum kit, neck arched towards the mic, otherwise swinging himself round the stage. It's Conrad who can be found at the end of the gig stood on the monitors trying to smash the venue's mirrorball out of its socket with his guitar. Through 'Totally Natural' he cracks out open chords from his guitar and your eye follows his arm as it hangs ominously above him between each blast. The smile rarely departs from his face, even when he's hissing "let's have a fascist regime!" in 'Richter Scale Madness' or tearing his heart out in 'Mistakes And Regrets'. He's a willing whipping boy to the band's bare-faced nihilism, ready to catch a bullet, to go down gloriously bloodstained at the helm of his ship.

But some six songs in you realise that not only is the ship going to hold together, it's going to plough triumphantly intact into the docks and split the city in half. 'Blight Takes All', with Jason's pre-amble about the invasion of Poland, takes on a weight I've never heard before. Kevin puffs his way through more cigarettes than I can count in an effort to keep up. The moments of sheer blood-splattered mayhem are punctuated with humour, as well as as at times, breathtaking accuracy. The subtle shift of riff as the band segue between songs (a Trail Of Dead speciality) is aborted temporarily as Neil, incredulous, notices someone yawning in the front row. There are guffaws throughout the venue as Conrad and Neil swap jokes about it. Then, without so much as a cursory count in, the band crash into 'Fake Fake Eyes', as if primed for action at every moment, irrespective of the course of events.

'A Perfect Teenhood' collapses into its usual prolapse of sound and energy so Jason allows himself to be carried above the crowd for a few victorious seconds. Moments later Conrad's guitar breaks with a pathetically minimal effort, as if it were made from balsa. ...And you will know them by the trail of dead, after all. This trail of dead now leads through the heart of Oxford - concentrated on the walls and floors of a club on the east side of town, but from there extending out like blots on blotting paper into the town and country beyond. Not just a trail of dead but a trail of T-shirts and growing devotees. We leave the band cheerfully enjoying the plaudits of the crowd as we hit the streets. "Let's have a riot, riot!"

Originally posted at diskant.net in December 2000, now surviving only on the Wayback Machine.